In The Collins English Dictionary the subject is interpreted as: ‘Of or relating to a literary style characterized by gloom, the grotesque, and the supernatural… ‘ The Cambridge Guide To literature In English explains: ‘The word ‘Gothic’ has come to mean ‘wild’, ‘barbarous’ and ‘crude’… ‘ The Penguin Dictionary of literary Terms states: ‘The… 18th century and… 19th century are marked by quite important changes in the ways people thought and felt about the metaphysical and the preternatural… ‘ There is no doubt that the Gothic obsession has had a huge influence on English literature since it arose in the late 18th century.
In this essay I am going to look at two pieces of literature that show characteristics of the genre and have obviously been affected by the Gothic period. H G Wells, an English novelist, short story writer and popular historian wrote The Red Room in 1896. This short story was written for a magazine and was therefore aimed at the average reader; designed to be popular with the general public. To appeal to the typical reader, the story is written in the style that was popular at the time, and is quite obviously influenced by the gothic horror traditions. I’m The King Of The Castle is a novel, written in 1970 by Susan Hill.
The more recent novel is much more subtle in its use of Gothic techniques, focusing more on the suggestion of evil or sinister influences rather than overt demonic powers. The novel is more psychological; it makes you think as opposed to the blunt horror story. The settings in The Red Room are typically gothic. There is no time in the short story for a description of the outside of the building; however, there are characteristic secret passages and winding stairways. There are a number of references to this element on the first few pages: The ‘Spiral staircase’ is distinctively Gothic.
The ‘baize-covered door’ conceals a hidden corridor. ‘The long, draughty subterranean passage was chilly and dusty… ‘ Underground has connotations with death as well as sinister settings. The ‘large sombre room, with its shadowy window bays, its recesses and alcoves… ‘ is an ominous environment. The character in The Red Room isolates himself deliberately. He creates his own melodramatic atmosphere going to the room alone and locking himself in; ~l entered, closed the door behind me at once, turned the key I found in the lock within… In fact, as soon as he sets off on his own he begins to feet uneasy.
He thinks of how the pensioners and the ‘deep- toned, old-fashioned furniture’ affect him. He is alone and isolated in the ‘sinister settings’ while all the supernatural things happen. He feels safe when he is with the old men and woman, even though they themselves make him uncomfortable. He even tries to comfort himself by thinking of them instead of anything supernatural ~). It is as if lust the thought of being with others will protect him in some way. Also, by talking to himself e feels less isolated: ‘By Jove! ‘ He hides his fear through this, characterising the ‘fearless, stiff-upper lipped British gentleman’.
The most intense fear in this story is created by the supernatural: … omens and witches were credible, and ghosts beyond denying. ‘ The man introduces the supernatural before he even enters The Room so we know what to expect. There is unexplained movement; ~… the candle in the alcove suddenly went out… ‘ and there are references to demons throughout; ‘red eyes’ and ‘red reflections’ have connotations with the devil and evil powers.
There is an obvious supernatural or ghostly presence in this novel; this is what creates the fear. The dark is considered one of the main identifying features of the genre; everything disturbing that happens in The Red Room is at, night the character departs for the room at night. It is dark and candles provide the only light. The real drama in the story begins when the candles go out, leaving him in the dark, alone. After his nightmarish experiences, the character comes back to reality: ‘I opened my eyes in daylight. ‘ It is like the light has saved him.
He is safe now he is no longer in the dark on his own. In the last paragraph Wells begins to break the mould of Gothic fiction. The fear moves beyond the dark and ghosts so that even the daytime is no longer a safe haven: ~… even in the daytime… black fear… ‘ In trying to break the mould, it could be said that Wells almost overuses the macabre. There is a certain amount of death in the short story, however this element does not dominate. The man’s ‘predecessor’, the ‘young duke’ died In The Room. The event is described as a ‘vigil’. This has connotations with death and night-time.
The atmosphere throughout is sombre. The man carries a gun that also makes the reader think of danger and death. Contrasting in style to The Red Room is I’m The King of The Castle. It is almost entirely based in desolate landscapes and sinister settings. Warings is described as an ‘ugly’ building: intimidating and imposing. There are yew trees growing around it, which are often found in graveyards. They are also said to ward off evil spirits. like Lorraine Castle in The Red Room, there are many unknown rooms. The Red Room is the place feared most in the house, especially by Kingshaw.
Similarly; The Red Room in the short story is notorious for its mysterious happenings. It is interesting to note that in both stories, The Red Room is a daunting place. The ‘Red’ again has connotations with demons, the devil and blood. Kingshaw’s ‘secret’ room gives another example of a Gothic element. Hang wood and the copse are isolated settings, full of ‘active nature’. Events in these places are also Gothic, the storm for example. Death is a constant theme in I’m The King Of The Castle. The book begins with the death of Hooper’s grandfather and ends with the suicide of Kingshaw.
Kingshaw’s father and Hooper’s mother are dead, and there are constant references to dead animals, such as the rabbit , the fish, and of course, the moths in The Red Room. Hooper seems totally unaffected by the death of anything. He describes his dying grandfather almost like a pathologist, completely unemotional ‘Dead thing are finished, they don’t matter’. Kingshaw, however, is very affected by death. Hopper plays upon this weakness, to his advantage. When he thinks Hooper is dead he remembers Lesage, the ‘deputy senior prefect’ at his old school, and what he said about death.
He takes it very seriously, unlike Hooper who is indifferent to death. The evil influence in I’m The King Of The Castle is human, unlike The “Red Room where it is supernatural. However, Hooper’s evil is so powerful, it is almost supernatural. Hooper’s power and its effect on Kingshaw is obvious. throughout the novel. A good example is when he locks Kingshaw in the shed: ~. he had been watching out of a window, and then followed him. He was cunning, he could do anything. ‘ This hints at the supernatural. Nothing can stop him. Kingshaw is powerless against the evil of Hooper.
Isolation is a key factor in I’m The King Of The Castle. The settings, Warings and Hangwood, are themselves very isolated places’. However, in this novel the main isolation is not in the location in the mind. main isolation is not in the location, but in the Kingshaw is isolated from his mother. He appears to view her as almost a stranger, and speaks about her with dislike, not love as one may expect. He ~… hated the bracelet, hated the way she waved her arm about, showing it off. ‘ (~). Both Helena Kingshaw and Joseph Hooper also used to be isolated.
They are both alone, their previous partners having died, and have only their children, with whom they do not have good relationships. Neither of them know how to talk to their children and both seem awkward in their presence: ~… whether she said the right things and looked sufficiently at ease, in his presence. ‘ Hooper is isolated. like Kingshaw, one of his parents is dead, and he does not get on with the other. He doesn’t appear to have any friends near his house, but speaks about having lots at his school. He is trying to make himself less solitary.
At Warings, Kingshaw becomes more isolated. He used to be content at school but at Warings he has no friends. As soon as he makes a friend, in Fielding, he is much happier. The two works achieve different results. This is because they were written in different periods of history and for different purposes. The Red Room was ,designed to scare people, which at the time I think it would have done. However, in modern times, it does not seem very frightening. Neither of the stories cover all of the Gothic elements but both use five or six ?? enough to make them appear Gothic.
Personally I find I’m The King Of The Castle a more psychologically disturbing story. It is much more subtle and effective than The Red Room in its technical use of the Gothic elements. In The Red Room the Gothic features are used to scare, especially the supernatural. They may have been effective one hundred years ago when people were afraid of ghosts and ghouls, but in the modern day, it could be said that the power of human evil is more feared. The Gothic elements are used, more effectively in I’m The King of The Castle, to intensify the reader’s emotions.